Philadelphia Families Stuck on Waiting Lists Calling for School Choice

The birthplace of our nation is also one of the key cities that became a wellspring for modern-day school choice programs. Unfortunately, Philadelphia freedom is unnecessarily at risk.

In the late 1990s, private foundations in Philly began providing scholarships to children from low-income families so they may attend the private school of their parents’ choice. Shortly thereafter, Pennsylvania passed a statewide program, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC), which further enabled such scholarships to flourish. Last year nearly 60,000 kids used EITC scholarships, making this one of the nation’s largest private school choice programs.

Although the success of the EITC program helped usher in a second (more limited) Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (OSTC), too many families in Philadelphia are still denied the freedom to choose in education.

The size and scope of Pennsylvania’s two school choice programs have not caught up with parent demand for scholarships. Case in point: The Children’s Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia, the largest scholarship organization in the city, is forced to turn away 7,000 to 8,000 student applications each year.

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That is why state lawmakers have filed legislation, which, they believe, will help underserved families by making technical changes to the existing scholarship programs that would allow for a greater number of scholarships to be awarded statewide. House Bill 2373 would allow unused credits to be transferred between the two tax-credit scholarship programs, enabling scholarship organizations to raise more money—potentially millions more—to help serve more kids in need.

“There are 10,000 empty seats in quality private and parochial schools currently available in the Philadelphia area,” Ina Lipman, Executive Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund Philadelphia, told the Pennsylvania House Education Committee at an informational meeting September 15. “Through continued support EITC and OSTC programs and greater cooperation among both programs, we will have the means to serve thousands more economically disadvantaged children in our city.”

Calls from the legislature to improve school choice programs come at a time when the majority of Pennsylvania voters support school choice. Fifty-six percent of likely voters in Pennsylvania support public funds following a student to a school different than his or her public school, according to a recent poll commissioned by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

Such findings are representative of the Philadelphia parents who are speaking up in demand of greater school choice:

Choice Media recently launched, a campaign to bring together groups of parents who believe school choice should be available to all families in Philadelphia.

Had the Founding Fathers not made their historic decision in Philadelphia, our notion of liberty likely would be much different. Pennsylvania has the chance to again make a resounding declaration for educational freedom by expanding school choice to the thousands of families stuck on waiting lists.